The 2011 Tohoku earthquake (Mw 9.0) sequence and subduction dynamics in Western Pacific and East Asia

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We review recent findings on the causal mechanism of the great 2011 Tohoku earthquake (Mw 9.0) sequence and related issues on seismic structure and subduction dynamics in Western Pacific and East Asia. High-resolution tomography revealed significant lateral heterogeneities in the interplate megathrust zone beneath the Tohoku, South Kuril and Southwest Japan forearc regions. Large megathrust earthquakes since 1900 generally occurred in or around high-velocity (high-V) patches in the megathrust zone, which may reflect asperities resulting from subducted seamounts, oceanic ridges and other topographic highs on the Pacific seafloor. In contrast, low-velocity (low-V) patches in the megathrust zone may contain more sediments and fluids, where the subducting oceanic plate and the overlying continental plate are less coupled or even decoupled. The nucleation of large crustal earthquakes in the Japan Islands, including the 11 April 2011 Iwaki earthquake (M 7.0) in SE Tohoku, is affected by arc magma and fluids resulting from slab dehydration. The Philippine Sea plate has subducted aseismically down to 430-460. km depth under East China Sea, Tsushima Strait and Japan Sea. A window in the aseismic Philippine Sea slab is detected, which may be caused by splitting of weak parts of the slab at the subducted ridges (e.g., Kyushu-Paula ridge) and hot upwelling in the mantle wedge above the Pacific slab. The intraplate volcanism in Northeast Asia is caused by hot and wet upwelling flows in the big mantle wedge above the stagnant Pacific slab in the mantle transition zone. Frequent generation of large deep earthquakes (>500. km depth) in the Pacific slab may supply additional fluids preserved in the slab to the mantle wedge under the Changbai volcano, making Changbai the largest and most active intraplate volcano in Northeast Asia. Fluids may be involved in nucleation and rupture processes of all types of earthquakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-49
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Asian Earth Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Feb 1


  • Deep earthquakes
  • East Asia
  • Intraplate volcanism
  • Megathrust zone
  • Pacific plate
  • Philippine Sea plate
  • Subduction dynamics
  • Tohoku earthquakes
  • Western Pacific


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